21 Aug 2015

Portland (part 1, Arrival and Oblation)

My time in Portland with Richard Polt has already been well-documented on his blog, but here are some different pictures and story from my and W's 2.5 days in Portland.

In Tacoma, we took the Link (light rail) to the Amtrak station (501 Cascades train), as this trip was going to be entirely free from personal motor transportation. And you really don't need a car to get around Portland or downtown Tacoma. Portland has a really nice train station.

We arrived before lunch, found our hotel, dropped our things there, and rode into the city center on the Max (yellow line). Portland has a very comprehensive public transportation system, if rather unreliable when it comes to keeping a schedule.

We stopped in at Powell's, the famous used bookstore, which was enjoyable but overpriced and too commercialized for my taste. My local Tacoma Book Center is a used bookstore in what I think of as the traditional sense—a building that looks bigger on the inside, crammed to the ceiling with books spilling over into hallways all with price tags I can afford. I did find two interesting maps there, though.

I saw a Dick Blick on the way to Oblation Papers and Press so we stopped in and I got some Nature Print paper, which is cool stuff. I haven't had a sunny day that wasn't busy yet to use it, but I will soon.

Then we met Richard at Oblation and typed a bit on the typing station outside. I regret that I said nothing of consequence and nearly pounded out a couple sentences for the sake of a photo op. For shame.

Inside, our ever admirable typewriter revolution leader coerced the staff to let us get a tour round the back. Actually, they said they did tours and he asked if we could have one and they said yes. This tour was the highlight of the day for me.

We got to see how their paper is made from cotton pulp, which they get in sheets and soak in water.

They make paper in a way that is remarkably identical to how it was done in Gutenberg's time, it was almost like watching a documentary about the dawn of the printing press!

They make normal rectangular sheets of white paper as well as different colors and different shapes.

Unlike Gutenberg, they do not typically use moveable type. Most design is done on the computer and then resin plates are created in a process similar to printing a circuit board.

If they need to cut the paper down to a different size, they have many forms. Including one specially made for Al Gore's presidential campaign!

The pressses are, however, all quite old (the newest is from the 1950s and the oldest is from the late 1800s)

Two presses were running, and they were mesmerizing to watch. I was reminded of my own desire to have a small printing press of my own—if only they weren't so expensive if you want one complete and in working condition.

After Oblation, we travelled back up to my and W's hotel and got pizza and talked typewriters for a couple hours. I got to use his Junior Mod. 58 which is really the coolest little typewriter. The touch is really solid and it's better than many machines larger than it. I wish I'd thought to type on it more before we left!


  1. Oblation looks like a great place to visit. I'm imagining there a gently intoxicating aroma of paper and ink?

  2. Good shots. I didn't make it to the train station, which looks delightful.

  3. Amazing fun! I keep hitting craigslist to see if there are any letterpresses going cheap in the area. No luck so far. I also read up on the polymer plates they use - similar to the old metal offset plates I used to use in the 80's, except imaged in reverse and the image material is thicker. Exposed using a film line negative and UV light, then processed to remove the non-image area. Apparently you can use doubled-up inkjet transparencies instead of a line negative, and sunlight to expose the plate, so certainly doable in toto in a small hobby space.

  4. Very nice trip report. Glad you had a good time. I too find Powell's over priced although I do mail order from them at times. I like the old used book stores in the Roanoke and Richmond Virginia areas. They are in old buildings like gas stations or other small places turned into over stuffed book stores with shelves and books stacked from floor to ceiling in every place one can place a book. Excellent prices too.
    I learned on some of those old presses in 7th grade. They were from the 1920s and were great fun to use. Later I worked at the print shop that gave them to the school and installed some from the 1940s. To me they looked the same. I loved setting type and seeing the finished product. I think had I ever come across one for sale that worked I would have bought it and worried about where to put it later. I'd still like one, but here in Florida there are not buildings large enough and affordable enough for a hobby that includes a printing press (besides if the place was not climate controlled it would rust and seize within a year due to the extreme humidity)

    1. I think those presses that were built from the 1920s until the 1960s when they were phased out remained more or less unchanged in design—they were already outdated by WWII of course!

  5. It looks like you had a great time in Portland. Richard certainly gets under the skin of a place to find the hidden gems.

    1. He does. I think a lot of people in fields like typewriters and printing really do enjoy showing people around and talking about it, you just have to know how to express that interest.

  6. The Portland equivalent of the Tacoma Book Center is probably Cameron's, located between Old Town and Chinatown. it's AMAZING!

    1. Thanks for the tip, if I go back I'll check it out!